Zion was a must-visit during our time in Utah. We knew that to see the heart of the park, visitors are required to ride a shuttle, yet we knew that seeing just a part of the park would be worth it.
When Will’s parents were in town, they visited the park, so we had very reasonable, and very low, expectations for the day. We waiting to visit until Will’s sister was in town, and while we did not make it to the heart of the park, we had an amazing day.
We arrived at the Visitor’s Center and found much the same scenario as we see time and again in National Parks: no parking. Because the entrance to Zion is situated next to a small town, there is parking available for a fee with the option to walk into the park. If we had had our hearts set on taking the shuttle, this would have been the best option. But since we had been on the fence, the lack of parking made the decision for us, and Will’s sister and I hopped into the Visitor’s Center and gift shop real quick while Will and Bird circled the lot.
We know that taking the shuttle would have been amazing, and honestly, the shuttles we saw were not packed, but between COVID and having a toddler along, on top of not really knowing what to expect inside the park, it simply made more sense for us to explore the outskirts of the park on our own.
Once we started driving, we had no second thoughts about our decision, as the park is truly gorgeous no matter how you see it. We had several hikes in mind and slowly made our way toward the trailheads, enjoying the scenery along the way. Bird particularly enjoyed the incredible tunnel with windows we drove through.
However, the trailheads were (not surprisingly) packed.
While this is typically where I would feel downtrodden and that our day was ruined, we literally had 0 expectations. Instead, we meandered along until we found a pull-off, parked the truck, and decided to find a place for a picnic.
We made our way to the most perfect area and set up our blanket and made some sandwiches. While 3 of us enjoyed this spot, Will did some scouting and discovered a little trail going into a slot canyon just below where we were eating.
As soon as we packed everything up (and Will dashed it back to the truck), we made our way into the canyon. In all honesty, seeing a slot canyon was all I had ever hoped for in a visit to Zion, so this completely made my day.
Once we walked down a little way, we were at the base of the canyon, where Bird could run and explore, and it was magical. We saw oak trees with changing leaves, something we had not seen at all in Snow Canyon, and found little puddles to play in. Mostly we just meandered around and eventually found our way back to the truck.
Because we had no expectations for the day, this little adventure was incredible. Was it the slot canyons of Zion? No. But was it enough to give us a glimpse of what the park offers and also keep a toddler busy for a little while? Absolutely.
We explored a little more throughout the park but ultimately decided to turn back toward home fairly early in the afternoon. Not only did we get to see the park, but we also made it home in time to relax and enjoy the afternoon. A win all around.
I hope someday that we return to Zion when Bird is bigger and there is not a pandemic to worry about, because seeing the Narrows and the heart of the park is still pretty high on my wish list. However, the visit we had was within all of our comfort zones and hit the highlights of what we had hoped to see. By this point, we know to have low expectations for our visits to National Parks, so when we happen upon a gem of an experience, it makes for a truly unforgettable day.